Jack frowned as he stared at the box of files sitting, untouched, in the middle of his hotel room floor. Maybe if he looked at it long enough, he'd divine some explanation for Sally's crazed behavior when he revealed his credentials.

 

He expected anger. It would be a completely rational response for her to be angry at him. But her response wasn't fury -- oh, there'd been some of the expected anger, but her response was more terror than anger, once his identity was revealed, and he didn't understand that. She went from fury to panic in the blink of an eye, and there were secrets in her eyes that he never saw, before.

 

Sure, she made her deal sound simple and logical enough. She turned over five of her six case files on the missing kids, and offered him no resistance on media control or public inquiries. Still, she refused to divulge even one scrap of information about the final kidnapped child, and his request for even a name only increased the terror in her eyes, until he backed off.

 

She made one other demand he still didn't understand, either. She made him swear that no one would know she was still involved in the investigation. She wanted to stay on the case, but she didn't want anyone to know she was on it, and that didn't make a lick of sense. His confusion was met with one tight-lipped word.

 

Because.

 

"I don't know what you're up to, angel," he muttered to the absent woman. "I just hope you know what you're doing."

 

With a resigned sigh and a shake of his head, he hefted the overflowing cardboard file box onto the bed and sat down beside it. Flipping the lid off the box, he pulled out the first of the files -- neatly labeled in Sally's distinct penmanship.

 

Pennac, Tamara.

 

 He swallowed hard as he stared at the file. His vision blurred, and his hands shook as his skin flushed and restless panic gripped him.

 

"It's just another case," he muttered to himself, but the words fell flat, and tasted like a lie -- the bitter taste of ash, motor oil, and memory.

 

This wasn't just another case, no matter how much he might wish. It was a kidnapping, and that made it like no other case he ever headed up. He drew one deep breath, then another, and grimaced when he scrubbed a hand over his face only to have it come away slick with sweat.

 

Dad, where are we going? Where's Mom?

 

"Christ!" Jack swore sharply beneath his breath, dropped the file onto the bed, and launched himself upright to stalk to the bathroom. Splashing cold water on his face, he looked up, and was caught in the terror of familiar blue eyes.

 

Dad, I want to go home. Please, can we go home, now?

 

Phantom echoes from another life -- one he didn't let himself think about or feel. What was the point? He couldn't change the past.

 

Turning away from the mirror, he dried his face and returned to the bedroom. The first sight to greet his gaze was the file he dropped, spread all over the bed covers. On top of the mess was a color, studio shot of a little girl who was missing. This little girl needed him to help her. He couldn't fail another little girl, ever again.

Contact Esther Mitchell at:

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